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Book: The home computer wars

12-11-2006 19:19 12-11-2006 19:19

An insider's Account of Commodore and Jack Tramiel

By Michael S. Tomczyk

I kissed the book when I received it :) This book is very rare in its kind. It is about Commodore Business Machines at the time of the VIC-20 and C= 64 (1979 - 1984), and it is written by Jack Tramiel's personal assistant.

The book is very much about Commodore's culture, which is consistently described as a war zone. Michael writes extensively on The Religion, Jack Tramiel's (Commodore's CEO) management style. In this style, Jack simple told his employees he wanted a cheap computer for the masses. At this time, most Commodorians wanted to create a  bigger computer than the PET, not a toy. The VIC-20, as this computer came to be called, did not even have a program manager. Michael asked Jack if he could be program manager, but he was denied this. Through his will alone, Michael, with others, made the VIC-20 a huge success. At the peak of this success, Jack threw Michael off the team, without good reason.

The book is about management, marketing, and interpersonal relations. It is not about technique, which is disappointing. I had expected more information about the origins of the technical aspects of VIC-20 and C= 64. On the other hand, it can teach you to survive in a corporate war-zone, where your superior is giving and supportive one day, and aggressive and brutal the next.

I heard of this book five years ago. It was unavailable from any bookshop, or pretty expensive ($60). Then I heard Michael Tomczyk had plans to rewrite the book. I even wrote him an e-mail in 2002 and he told me:

Patrick hello,

Sorry you haven't been able to find my book.  I have been parting with a few of my remaining copies for about $60 per book, but very sparingly and mostly for researchers and collectors.  My book answers most of your questions, and also contains some pictures from that era.  I am being very spare in making copies available right now but I have a few copies left and am trying to satisfy those people with special interests or needs.  The revision won't be done for awhile, due ot my other pressing obligations, but I'm working on it.  I've added your name to the notification list.

Best regards,

I suppose the revision has never come.  And thus recently I thought, the book will only become more expensive the longer I wait. So I bought a second-hand copy (in a very good state) from, which advertises through Amazon. It cost me €65.

It is really great to read about your first computer from the point of view of the ones who built it. "To their credit, Tony Tokai and Yashi Terakura tried to define the keys to change colors and include a SOUND command, but they ran out of space and couldn't do it". The space here is 4 Kilobytes for the entire BASIC implementation...

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